Monday, September 28, 2015

An Interview with Hugh Fraser on Playing Captain Hastings, Voicing Poirot, and His New Thriller Novel

British actor Hugh Fraser brought Agatha Christie's Captain Arthur Hastings to life in 43 episodes of the British TV series Poirot, starting in 1989. His performance opposite David Suchet's Belgian detective has endeared him to mystery fans all over the world. In addition to playing Hastings, Mr. Fraser also starred in other popular television series, such as Sharpe and The Alan Clark Diaries. He has appeared in movies (e.g., Patriot Games) and on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company. His first novel, a thriller titled Harm, was published earlier this year. We recently caught up with Hugh Fraser during the filming of his latest movie.

Café:  How did you approach playing Captain Hastings? Had you read any of Agatha Christie's novels or short stories?

Hugh Fraser:  I read many of Agatha Christie’s novels when I was around twelve or thirteen, and I remember particularly enjoying the Poirot stories. When I came to play Hastings, I re-read the novels in which he appeared. But when I received the scripts, adapted by Clive Exton, I found that Clive had given Hastings rather more of a personality and certainly more humour than I had found in the original books and so my Hastings was really based on the character that Clive wrote, as well as the Hastings created by Agatha Christie.

Café:  Agatha Christie's Poirot aired for 13 seasons, comprising 70 episodes. What do you think was the secret to its enduring international popularity?

HF:  First and foremost, David Suchet’s performance as Poirot. His attention to detail and the way he brought the fussy little Belgian detective to life has an enduring appeal for audiences which shows no sign of waning. Also, Agatha Christie’s ability to create endless variations on the “whodunnit” formula, and her genius for creating rich and interesting characters. From the purple-faced Major to the maid who opens the door to let Poirot into the country house, each one has a personality and a manner which makes them memorable and distinctive.
David Suchet as Poirot and Hugh Fraser as Captain Hastings.
Café:  The friendship between Poirot and Hastings is one of the series' strongest elements. How did you and David Suchet get along off-screen?

HF:  Extremely well. David is the ultimate professional and brings a great deal of discipline to his work. It is well known that he would remain in character as Poirot between takes, and over twenty five years I never saw him forget a line or a move. Having said that, David has a great sense of humour and we always found time to share a joke or two.

Café:  After Murder in Mesopotamia in 2002, Hastings didn't appear in another episode until The Big Four in 2013. How did it feel to return to the role again after 11 years?

HF:  I approached Hasting's return with some trepidation, but as soon as I put on the tweed and began filming, it was as if I’d never been away.

Café:  What is your favorite episode and why?

HF:  I think it has to be Curtain, the final film. We see Poirot, diminished physically, but with ‘the little grey cells’ still as sharp as ever, solve a case that is perhaps one of the most challenging of his career, and commit murder in the process. Hastings, older now, and possibly slightly wiser, also contemplates murder in order to safeguard his daughter’s honour. Poirot and Hastings are forced to these extremes by one of Christie’s most fiendish and cunning villains, the stammering Stephen Norton, so brilliantly played in the film by Aidan McCardle.

Café:  You've played Hercule Poirot, too--recording all the novels as audio books. What was it like playing the Belgian detective to your own Hastings?

HF:  Slightly creepy to begin with. I felt as if David might be lurking in the shadows at the back of the studio ready to reprimand me, but once I got going it was ok.

Café:  Your impressive acting credits also include the Sharpe movies (as the Duke of Wellington), Reilly: Ace of Spies, and stage productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company. What are your favorite roles other than Captain Hastings?

Hugh Fraser as Mr. Talman.
HF:  In the theatre it was the role of Peyote, in David Hare’s Teeth’n’Smiles at the Royal Court, in which I played a drugged-out bass player to Helen Mirren’s rock singer in a play about a rock band causing chaos at a May Ball in Cambridge. It was a great show to be in, and it transferred to the Wyndhams Theatre. In film, it would be Mr. Talman, a grumpy German nobleman, in Peter Greenaway’s The Draughtsman’s Contract. This was a film made on a tiny budget which we thoroughly enjoyed making and which became an unexpected success.

Café:  Tell us about your first novel, Harm, which was published earlier this year.

HF:  Harm is a crime thriller about a female contract killer who we meet on assignment in Mexico in 1974. After she wakes to find her employer’s head on her bedside table, she is captured by a Mexican drug boss who wants her to kill a member of the government. We flash back to Notting Hill in 1956 where Rina is living in grinding poverty and struggling to support her younger siblings and alcoholic mother. When a local gangster attacks her nine-year old sister, Rina wreaks revenge and kills him. Innocence betrayed, Rina faces the brutality of the post-war London underworld. The Mexican adventure and Rina’s back story proceed in alternate chapters.

Café:  We're looking for a big scoop here: Might Rina return in a sequel? 

HF:  I’m working on it now!

Café:  You're currently on location in Kazakhstan for a movie. What projects do you have on the horizon?

HF:  Nothing in view at the moment, but hope springs eternal.

You can follow Hugh Fraser on Twitter at @realhughfraser. His new novel is available at bookstores everywhere.


  1. Reading your interview with Hugh Fraser was the perfect start to my day. I'll definitely be picking up a copy of "Harm".

  2. Rick, I am so jealous. Interviewing HASTINGS! Well, Hugh Fraser. I love the man. Well, I love his Hastings - the perfect embodiment of the character just as Suchet is the perfect Poirot.. I also love Hugh Fraser's Christie audio books - listen to them often. He has a wonderful speaking voice. Lots of love going on here, but that's who I am. Ha.

  3. Rick, you truly are a most excellent interviewer! I absolutely love Poirot, especially because David Suchet and Hugh Fraser work seamlessly together! I did not know that Mr. Fraser had recorded the novels as audio books and will need to look for them. He has a voice that I believe would lend itself wonderfully well to books on tape. Great interview and a grand thank you to Mr. Fraser for stopping by the Cafe!

  4. Thank you for this interview. I enjoyed it.

  5. I liked this interview, mainly because I like Hugh Fraser